By Jessica Tuggle
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY -- Tire tracks on the beach during the summer mean Rick Herren, county environmental specialist, is on the move and tracking sea turtles.
"Sea turtle nesting season began in May and early August is when many of the first hatchlings begin to emerge from their sandy homes and make their way to the ocean," Mr. Herren said.
Last week during his rounds, Mr. Herren excavated a loggerhead nest where hatchlings recently emerged. Of the 75 eggs, five did not hatch, Mr. Herren discovered in his inventory.
While the egg count in the nest was slightly lower than normal for a loggerhead turtle, the eggs hatched to eggs laid ratio was quite good, he said.
The nest was about 200 yards from the north end of the Jaycee Beach boardwalk, high on the beach in the beach re-nourishment sand area.
"It could be a good sign that the nest is so high on the sand," Mr. Herren said.
The marked nests on the beach are easily identifiable with the fluorescent tape, wooden stakes and informational signs, but they do not encompass the total amount of nests on the beach.
There are thousands of nests made by turtles on the 12-mile stretch of beach in Indian River County, sometimes there are even nests built on top of other nests, Mr. Herren said.
The totals won't be available until late fall, but already there have been more than 3,000 documented nests. Less than 250 nests are marked, he said.
"When hatchlings emerge from the nest, it is usually later at night, after midnight when the sand temperature is cooler. They search for the brightest spot on the horizon and immediately begin traveling to it, trusting that it is the ocean reflecting the moon, but sometimes it's not," Mr. Herran said.
With lights so close to the sand dunes because of development, sea turtles often are confused and begin heading up the beach toward the artificial lights, instead of down the beach to the ocean.
"Not only does this make them more vulnerable to predators, but even should there be no predators, the hatchlings' energy supply is limited, and any extra travel could be exhausting," Mr. Herren said.
The hatchling's energy source comes from the egg they were hatched out of and it is sufficient to give them enough energy to crawl out of the sand and to the water where they can find different and new food to consume, but first they have to make it into the water, Mr. Herren said.
Keeping lights off at the beach during the night would eliminate a lot of problems for the turtles and could mean more of them would survive longer, he said.
Other ways people can help sea turtles is by removing beach furniture from the sand and not digging an umbrella too deeply into the sand.
For more information about sea turtle nesting in Indian River County, visit http://www.ircgov.com/Departments/Public_Works/Coastal_Engineering_Section/Index.htm.